Roll on June
by Richard Alvarez
I have been attending the Le Mans 24 hour race ,off and on, since 1969. The first time we went was in a 1965 Vauxhall Viva HA this car was in a very light green and had vinyl seats. The French part of the drive from Calais is about 270 miles which seemed to take an age in a car which had a top speed of about 70 and in those days the French economy did not run to motorways. With the drive to Dover and a couple of hours on the ferry( the tunnel was seen as just a dream) it was quite a trip ..The sight and sound of a British entered Ford GT40, which I still think is one of the most beautiful cars of all time, taking the chequered flag after some 3000 miles made it all worthwhile..
Camping was the order of the day and with a track length of over 8 miles there was plenty of site choice . The facilities for those on a limited budget were just horrid , the French have always had a` laissez faire` attitude to privacy and washing but this was at a new level especially towards the end of the race when huge amounts of beer and frites had been consumed. The constant noise and discomfort took its toll and the return journey to England was always a little more subdued !
The 24 hour race started in 1923 and was won by a Chenard and Walcker 3 Litre sport which covered some 1400 miles. A race like this was possible because ,as now , some public roads were used but in those days there were numerous accidents involving members of the public who had not been made aware of the situation! Again very French.
The British have had the most winning drivers (32) followed by the French (29) and Germany (19). The fastest speed attained was by a Peugeot WM P88 in 1988 @253 mph. But without doubt the best noise was from the Mazda 787B rotary which won in 1991 and is the only non piston engined car so to do. Rover BRM made a brave attempt with a jet car which finished in 1963.
So what is the magic of this race? Firstly it makes history , it is part of the development of the car . The Jaguar XK120 prototype was the first car with disc brakes and many other everyday performance and safety features were developed on this endurance track. It is also the excitement of seeing cars of different classes on the same track at the same time. On the legendary Mulsanne straight cars can have a 75 MPH speed difference and it was only a few years ago that they inserted a chicane to lessen the danger of collision especially at night.
We stay in a small Hotel some 3 miles from the circuit now ., I can`t understand it but my friends all seem to have got older and seem to worry about comfort and whether the Restaurant is booked more than the racing and the night life!
The 24 hours starts at 3pm on Saturday 17 th June this year but the best time is about 3 minutes later when you hear a slight noise in the distance , will it be Porsche or Toyota in the lead as they come round for the first time and in the lesser classes Ford Lamborghini Aston or Ferrari? Who knows , but with another 24 hours to go it is always some race.
This month’s Staff Blog was written by Richard Alvarez (Buying Director). Click here to find out more about Richard.